I recently left teaching at a studio where I caught myself embodying a yoga persona that I didn’t recognize.
I was desperate to make everything bigger, better, and praise-worthy. I became chronically sick and my practice suffered. Worse, I was lonely and apathetic because I didn’t have time for the people and passions that fueled me.
I found myself barking at cashiers and avoiding meditation, and I knew that it was time for a change. I went home for six weeks to regroup. Mainly because I wanted a life outside of the yoga instructor persona that I had created—no expectations, no hands-on assists, and no stretchy pants.
During those six weeks, I was not peaceful nor was I reciting Sanskrit mantras as I had been doing every day that summer. But instead, here I was teaching multiple classes a day, worn and frayed, trying my best to heal people.
Yoga teaches you to recognize authenticity—to recognize when the breath is deep, when the poses are unrestricted, when the mind is clear—but along the way, you accumulate false ideas of how this authenticity should be expressed.
After a full week of teaching, I want to slip into cotton clothing and watch movies with my friends, eat pasta, and drink wine in my own apartment. However, I often feel bad for craving this, but there are moments when I have grown to resent the dusty yoga mat in the corner because it carries the weight of unattainable expectations.
I was growing jaded with the yoga scene when I met my current boss, Erin Fogel, an actress and real estate broker who opened a yoga studio dedicated to small, authentic classes.
Her ability to manage multiple lifestyles without shame was the reason that I wanted to work for her; I wanted someone to teach me how to have a life outside of the classroom.
Many people do not endorse balanced lifestyles for yoga instructors. Holding them to impossibly high standards, you assume that they live in an alternate universe, one of clean eating, infinite wisdom, and anatomical perfection.
I remember the first time a fellow yoga instructor told me that she was an omnivore. She was blushing and asked me to keep the secret to myself.
We had just finished a team meeting where we were served protein-less salads, and both of us were starving, stopping at the corner deli for a sandwich before traveling onward.
It was amazing how hush-hush it all felt. The two of us admitted that we don’t actually like green juice, we think it’s overpriced. Instead, we had grand plans to go home and drink red wine with our friends, not kombucha over a yoga mat. I remember thinking how sad it all was that here we are encouraging students to be themselves, but we are not.
Yoga instructors are asked to live this practice on and off the mat, but what does that actually mean?
Many instructors enter teacher training with the knowledge that your life is spiraling out of control, and you are desperate for a fix. You start eating clean, sleeping more, and meditating regularly. You schedule your life around yoga classes, making new friends, and the alignment of your chakras.
In an instant, your world explodes, and you cling to the newness, the change. Then the years pass, and the wisdom expands, and if there’s anything that my practice has taught me it’s that yoga brings us closer to ourselves. But sometimes that takes a while, and in the waiting you adopt the mindset that you want to have—filling yourself with habits and philosophies of stereotypical yogis—but that is not you. A peaceful demeanor and vegetarian diet is not for everyone, and that’s okay.
It’s exhausting to uphold the yogic standards, and it is not what Patanjali endorsed. The Sutras are about erasing impressions and detaching from expectations—including the standards that many have set for yogis. The practice is designed to release you from bondage as you come to intimately, lovingly know yourself.
According to Patanjali, the role of a yoga instructor is to know ourselves so well that we can keep our personal batteries charged and share this energy with students.
The philosophy behind sthala siddhi, the process of using the mind to create limits, has changed my life as a yoga instructor. While beautiful in theory, it quickly reveals your motives.
After making a vow, you will be shown whether or not your intentions are true.
Living this practice means finding a home in yoga. That is all.
It means that you use the tools you’re given in times of pain and crisis, and sometimes that means skipping your asana practice to see a friend, or meditating for two minutes in bed rather than ten minutes on a bolster. Or (God forbid) giving a loud, honest voice to your feelings rather than surrendering your emotions and suppressing negativity.
After all, bring all of yourself to this practice—with authenticity that extends beyond the classroom.